The Scapegoat of the Gospel

The Scapegoat of the Gospel

By Erin Bird

This week in our Gospel Facets series, we are going to look at a  small-but-important facet. This facet is rarely talked about directly,  yet often when a Jesus-follower shares the gospel, this facet is front and center.

And to talk about this facet, I want to talk about goats.

The True G.O.A.T.
Goats are quite fashionable right now.

But goats were also “fashionable” in biblical times, being used in a very important ceremony for the Jewish people.

In Leviticus 16, God gave instructions that after sacrificing a bull for the sins of himself and his family, Aaron, the brother of Moses and first high priest of Israel, was to take two male goats and “cast lots” over them. (Casting lots was an ancient version of a coin flip.) Based on the results of the cast lots, one of the goats would be sacrificed on the altar, but something unique happened to the other goat.

Here is what God instructed to happen with this second goat:

“And Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins. And he shall put them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who is in readiness. The goat shall bear all their iniquities on itself to a remote area, and he shall let the goat go free in the wilderness.” (Leviticus 16:21-22, ESV)


This “live goat” is called the “scapegoat.” You’ve probably heard this term before. The Oxford dictionary defines scapegoat as “a person who is blamed for the wrongdoings, mistakes, or faults of others.” The word is often used negatively, as in “she was made a scapegoat by her boss.”

But for Christians, this word should be seen in a positive light. Because the ancient Jewish ceremony where this word comes from points to Jesus.

If you are a Jesus-follower, you quickly realize the first goat pointed to Jesus, as the first goat was sacrificed for the sins of the people. But the live goat also pointed to Jesus. For when Jesus died on the cross for your sins, your sins were completely removed from you, much like the second goat bore the sins of the people and carried them away.

King David poetically describes this truth in Psalm 103:12:

As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.”

I love that God’s Spirit had David write “as far as the east is from the west,” rather than “as far as the north is from the south.” Because if you stood on the North Pole, any step you take would be a step south, meaning north and south meet at the poles. But east and west? They never meet! There is no “East Pole” that would force your next step to be west.

That’s how far your sin has been removed through Jesus’ willing sacrifice. What an amazing thought! Jesus is the true scape-G.O.A.T., carrying our sins away from us, completely forgiving us of them.

So may you worship the greatest scapegoat of all time, who took the “blame for your wrongdoings, mistakes and faults” so that you might be free to be in union with a Perfect, Holy God.

Justified through the Gospel

Justified through the Gospel

By Erin Bird

I’m excited to continue our series on Gospel Facets because this week I get to talk about Justification.

Justification is a theological word that often gets ignored because many of us aren’t quite sure exactly what it means. We’ve heard the word, but the definition is a bit fuzzy in our brains. So let me help out. Here are two ways you can remember what Justification means:

  1. The first way you can remember “justified” is the “Maid Rite sandwich” definition. Simply put, to be “justified” is to be “made right” (Maid Rite) with God.
  2. The other way you can remember “justified” is to put it in a sentence; “Just-if-I’d (justified) never sinned.”

While I think it’s important you remember what this “seminary” word means, it’s more important to me that you to see the awesomeness of this concept in the Scripture.

Justification in the Bible
The Apostle Paul talks about justification more in the book of Romans than in any of his other letters. Right after one of the most famous verses from Romans (“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” (3:23)), Paul says this:

” and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,”(3:24)

This is amazing news! When a person (who is a sinner falling short of God’s glory) puts their faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus, they are “justified by His grace as a gift.”In other words, the gospel makes you right with God, “just if I’d” never sinned. Wow!

A Justified Example
But maybe that doesn’t wow you. Maybe that is still “too theological” for you, or you grew up in church and have heard all this for dozens of years and so it’s common place to your ears. Let me give you an  illustration then:

Imagine you committed a horrible crime. In an unexpected fit of enraged passion, you struck someone, and that blow killed the person. While you are filled with regret, you still committed the crime, and thus the judge is required by law to sentence you to time in prison.

Now imagine, the judge’s son walks in to the courtroom, put his arm around you, and says, “Dad, I heard about this person’s story, and I know he/she didn’t mean it. And because I know they feel awful for what they did, I want to take their place, and have his/her record expunged.”

While this example is pretty ludicrous in our modern age,  this is exactly what happened in the spiritual realm. Your sin made you guilty against a perfect, Holy God. Your sin deserved the punishment of death. But Jesus walked into the courtroom, put His arm around you, looked up at his Dad the judge, and said, “I’ll take the punishment so he/she can be made right with you. And as I take his/her sentence, please give him/her my perfect record.”

THAT is what justification is all about! This is why Paul also said in Romans:

“Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.”(Romans 8:33)

If you are a follower of Jesus, God the Perfect Judge has declared you justified through the gospel. And because God has declared it, no one can say otherwise! You are free from your sin. It is not held against you. God looks at you as “just if I’d never sinned.”

So this Sunday, if you are able to join us in worship, as you partake of the communion elements, tell God, “Thank you for your justification. Thank you for making me right, by taking my sin to the cross, and giving me the flawless record of Jesus.”

Rich through the Gospel

Rich through the Gospel

By Erin Bird

This week’s “facet” of the Gospel is that through Jesus, you are rich!

But don’t take that phrase the wrong way: I don’t mean earthly wealth. While some Jesus-followers have been blessed with much,  many have very, very little. They would be considered poor in the eyes of most people on this planet.  Even Jesus Himself would have been considered poor during his three years of public ministry, saying that He had “no place to lay His head.” (Matthew 8:20)  In fact, Jesus warned against seeking worldly wealth many times. “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” (Matthew 8:36)

So what do I mean, then, by saying that through the Gospel you are rich?

I’ll let Ephesians 1:3 explain:

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,”

Did you hear it? If not, read it again.

If you follow Jesus, you have been blessed with “every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places!

I think this is why Paul described these riches as “unsearchable” a couple chapters later. (See Ephesians 3:8) These spiritual riches are so vast, so huge, they can’t be searched. That’s a lot!

But sadly, most of us aren’t using these riches.

Inherited Riches

In America, we tend to idolize people who “pulled themselves up by their bootstraps” into fame and wealth. At the same time, we tend to look unfavorably toward those who are wealthy due to inherited riches. Earned wealth is thought to be more impressive than inherited wealth.

But what if you heard that before some guy became the newest millionaire in your community, he had been unemployed due to his employer closing down and was on the verge of homelessness? Suddenly, you would be quite happy for him! I doubt you’d think poorly of this guy. (Rather, you’d probably be a bit envious, wishing you had a rich uncle who could leave you a couple cool million!)

But now imagine you heard this new millionaire never touched the money.  And by not using the money, the bank kicked him out of his house for refusing to pay his mortgage. “But I didn’t earn that money, so I can’t use it!” he would exclaim with faulty logic.

This imaginary scenario is played out regularly by Christians on a spiritual level. Jesus’ death and resurrection have resulted in us receiving an inheritance that can never be taken away from us. And yet, daily Christians refuse to use these riches.

What spiritual riches am I referring to?

Your Spiritual Riches

First, if you follow Jesus, realize you’ve been given the righteousness of Christ. Some theologians call this “the great exchange.” Jesus took your sinfulness and gave you His righteousness (see 2 Corinthians 5:21). That’s like a billionaire having the credit card company send him your maxed-out credit card bill while putting a billion dollars in your bank account.

Second, not only have you been given the righteousness of Jesus, you’ve been given God Himself. His very Spirit lives within you. (Ephesians 1:13-14) And if the same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead now dwells in you, (Romans 8:11), then who can stand against you? (Romans 8:31) Talk about rich and powerful!

Third, because you’ve been given God’s Spirit, you have complete access to God (Ephesians 2:18). So I would encourage you to make your first move in the face of problems be prayer rather than make your first step an attempt in your own strength to “earn” the solution. (“God helps those who help themselves” is NOT in the Bible!)

Fourth, enjoy these riches now! These aren’t just riches awaiting you in heaven. You can enjoy the presence of God now through worship, service, conversations, prayer, good food, generosity, and so much more. (This is why Paul tells us in Colossians 3:17 to do all things for Jesus.) So enjoy God’s riches!

And whenever you forget to use these spiritual riches, go to the “bank” of the cross and empty tomb, reminding yourself of what Jesus has done for you, taking you out of spiritual poverty by giving you an inheritance of spiritual riches of His righteousness.

So know that if you follow Jesus, you are rich!

Adopted Through the Gospel

Adopted through the Gospel

By Erin Bird

Last week, I shared the “facet” of how we are spiritually born through the gospel. Well, the Scriptures take this concept even further by talking about how we are also “adopted” through the gospel.

I know, I know, that’s confusing. How is someone “born” through the gospel, and yet also “adopted?”After all, if a child is born to parents, those parents don’t have to also adopt the child.

That is quite true. But on the spiritual level, God does both. The 4th chapter of Galatians tells us this: When you believe the Gospel, you are both born of Him  (Galatians 4:26) and adopted by Him (Galatians 4:5). I think God intentionally uses both concepts to get across a very valuable truth.

Full Rights as a Child
I have had several friends adopt little girls from China. One of them  told me that on their first evening back in Iowa, the mom put her new little 2-year-old in the high chair while making dinner, and to keep her daughter happy while waiting, Mom put a bunch of Cheerios on the tray of the high chair, just like she had with her other kids.

However, instead of picking up a Cheerio to put in her mouth, or throw them on the floor like some kids, this newly adopted little one immediately grabbed as many Cheerios into her fist as she could, stuffing them into her mouth as quickly as she possibly could. In that moment, my friend told me she was reminded that her newly adopted daughter had been poorly fed in the orphanage and had to fight for every scrap of food she could.

But then my friend told me she was also heart broken, because her daughter at 2 years of age didn’t realize the truth of her new reality. She was acting like she still lived in the orphanage. What she didn’t realize was that she was now part of a family where she did not have to fight for Cheerios. Everything that belonged to her new family was hers as well. When her new mom and dad signed the adoption papers, everything that was theirs instantly became hers as well.

I think this is what God wants us to understand by telling us that we are not just born of the gospel, but also adopted through the gospel.  The imagery of adoption reminds us that while we were separated from our Heavenly Father by sin, we now have complete access to Him and that all that is His is ours as well.

If this truth still seems hard to grasp, spend some time reading slowly, thoughtfully, repeatedly, and prayerfully through Ephesians 1:3-14seeing the truth that anyone who knows the Son is adopted as a son or daughter. And as an adopted child of God, everything that is God’s is yours. You have been given every spiritual blessing under heaven!

So enjoy your position as an adopted child of God! Let this beautiful “facet” of spiritual adoption bring you joy.

Like Riverwood on Facebook